Watch West End family dramas on stage
You just can’t beat family when it comes to riveting drama. Perhaps that’s because no one gets under your skin quite like the people you love and who know you best – and who are bonded to you by blood, like it or not. From Greek tragedy through Shakespearean slanging matches and contemporary clans, shows with family drama at their centre have always ruled our stages.
That’s certainly true of London theatre this year, which features a range of bickering families, whether they’re fired up by religious difference, competition over inheritance, hurt feelings, well-intentioned lies, or a mother attempting to seduce her own son. (That latter is actually a funny musical rather than Ancient Greek angst – after all, comedy equals tragedy plus time.)
So, if you’re eager to get a sneak peek into someone else’s family drama, whether through a new play, a starry revival or a celebrated musical, get some inspiration from our round-up of the best family shows in London.
American playwright Theresa Rebeck premieres her latest dark comedy in the West End, and with an A-list cast. Hollywood star Bill Pullman – who was last seen treading the boards in London in 2019 in another family drama, All My Sons – plays patriarch Daniel, who is dying of emphysema. He is cared for by son Michael, played by David Harbour (Stranger Things).
However, when Daniel’s other two children show up, arguments immediately erupt over who will inherit the estate. This searing portrait of family dysfunction takes place in rural Pennsylvania, and Rebeck has promised “betrayal and treason and poor behaviour. A lot of poor behaviour.” Who can resist?
Book Mad House tickets on London Theatre.
Tennessee Williams based this tender memory play on his own family. His overbearing mother inspired Amanda Wingfield, whose interference in her children’s lives ends in disaster, while Williams’s mentally ill sister Rose inspired the character of Laura – and Williams himself might also be represented by Laura, since he too was a sick and fragile child.
But the playwright’s avatar is most clearly the narrator Tom, who longs to escape his stifling family and yet, as an older man, also feels guilty for abandoning them – particularly Laura. It’s that personal touch which makes this such a poignant and enduring play. Catch the West End revival now, starring Oscar nominee Amy Adams as Amanda.
Book The Glass Menagerie tickets on London Theatre.
This Tony Award-winning musical by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, The Greatest Showman) is all about familial bonds. At the centre of the contemporary story is socially anxious teenager Evan Hansen, who struggles to express himself fully to his supportive but busy mum Heidi.
But, after a lie gets out of hand, Evan finds himself connecting to another family, the Murphys, who are grieving for their lost son. This stirring, empathetic show gives space to everyone’s emotions – adults and children, parents and siblings – while also exploring the role of technology in our lives. The West End run finishes this October, so get booking pronto.
Book Dear Evan Hansen tickets on London Theatre.
Watch out: Joshua Harmon’s cage fight of a black comedy is back in town, and it’s bound to land a gut punch, or two. This acclaimed show, which ran in the West End in 2016, pits devout Jew Daphna against her cousin Liam, who is dating a gentile and is more ambivalent about their faith and traditions.
However, Liam lays claim to their late grandfather’s chai, sparking a furious row with Daphna, while Liam’s brother Jonah and girlfriend Melody watch on. Harmon’s play will chime with anyone who’s grappled with family inheritance, identity and growing pains, or who’s been drawn into a slanging match with someone who’s known them forever – and has the dirt to prove it.
Book Bad Jews tickets on London Theatre.
The particular conundrum that Marty McFly faces in this hit musical adaptation of the beloved movie is slightly less relatable. How many of us have accidentally time-travelled to the 1950s, where we must get our parents to fall in love so that our family won’t be wiped out – except, slight issue, our mother fancies us?
OK, that’s probably just Marty. But we can definitely relate to his love for his family, and the way his relationships with his parents are redefined once he gets to know them as people. Plus this hugely entertaining West End show has a rocking score and incredible special effects: entertainment for the whole family.
Book Back to the Future tickets on London Theatre.
Family also defines Disney’s mega-hit Frozen, now a majestic West End musical. At its heart is the relationship between the two very different sisters: serious, anxious Elsa, who hides her magic away as her parents taught her, and goofy, open-hearted Anna, who doesn’t understand why she’s been left all alone.
Watching the siblings gradually reconnect over the course of the show is utterly joyful, as is seeing the additions to their found family – Olaf, Kristoff and Sven. All your favourite songs from the movie are there, like “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “Let It Go”, plus the stage show has new numbers such as a duet for the sisters, “I Can’t Lose You."
Book Frozen tickets on London Theatre.
In Anton Chekhov’s great play, everyone is either related or in love – except, in this tragicomic tangle, no one quite matches up. At the centre of the action is Irina Arkadina, a formerly great actress. Her son Konstantin is an aspiring playwright, although she mocks his efforts at a radical new form, staged while Arkadina is visiting her brother Sorin at his country estate.
Masha, daughter of the estate manager, is hopelessly in love with Konstantin; he is in love with actress Nina. But Nina’s head is turned by writer Trigorin, Arkadina’s lover. Chekhov also draws on Hamlet as he depicts this desperately dysfunctional family set-up. Catch the new West End revival, starring Game of Thrones’s Emilia Clarke and Indira Varma.
Book The Seagull tickets on London Theatre.
If it’s a family drama you’re after, you’ve got plenty to choose from at Shakespeare’s Globe. The 2022 summer season includes Much Ado About Nothing, which sees a community torn apart when bride-to-be Hero is wrongly accused of promiscuity – much to the fury of her father Leonato and agony of her cousin Beatrice. Thankfully, since Much Ado is a comedy, we also get a sparring romance and a happy ending.
More complications arise in the magical world of The Tempest, with sorcerer Prospero nudging his daughter Miranda into a tryst with the shipwrecked Ferdinand – partly as a revenge plot against his treacherous brother Antonio. But there may yet be hope for reconciliation.
Photo credit: Mad House (Photo by Marc Brenner)
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